There is currently no Chinese equivalent of italics used for emphasis. Simply slanting the characters is not only inadequate (and bad-looking), as in Western languages, but ignorant of the history of Chinese writing, where body text was in columns and only display script was arranged horizontally, which would preclude the slanting of vertical strokes. It looks bad.
In short, what we currently have falls short of the demands of modern type, especially with the common use of Microsoft Word, because there is no satisfactory solution already being used to fill the need. This isn’t even optical sizes and other fancy options that Adobe provides with some of its Western fonts. This is italics I’m talking about. So what options are there?
Seal script display faces are too different from standard Ming, Song or Fangsong faces to be used with text faces as emphasis markers, being more similar in connotation to blackletter in Western type, except less legible to the modern reader. Xingshu (semi-cursive script) and caoshu (cursive script) are too decorative and not legible enough in small print sizes; kaishu (regular script), while calligraphic without looking overly scripty, is too neutral to serve as an italic.
Enter lishu (clerical script), now used primarily as a display face but highly legible. It usually signifies antiquity or artistic flavour, but of the candidates lishu has the most potential as a starting point for developing an italic typeface as a companion to the “roman” serif typefaces.
- It is legible enough and traditional enough to complement serif fonts.
- Its flair is comparable to that of italics in Western type, and there’s more of a sense of serif to speak of than with other calligraphic styles.
- Whispiness will not be a problem.
However, there are some major challenges. Clerical script has very horizontal proportions compared to regular script and serif typefaces already in standard use, and its colour would appear too dark on a page of Ming or Fangsong type. There are also some baseline issues with clerical script more prominent than with regular script.
So we need a lighter, less horizontal script than the clerical script already in existence that also doesn’t clash badly with serif fonts. Compatibility could be determined by comparison with kanji, hiragana and katakana integration in Japanese serif fonts .
If anyone with the requisite knowledge of Chinese calligraphy and general typography will do what it takes, my eyes will thank the type designer when I start seeing the new typeface replacing the ubiquitous faux italics. I’ll be a tester if you want.